Secular funerals- what are they and what does the celebrant do?


We are seeing a rise in secular funerals. A rise in the use of secular celebrants conducting funerals. People are choosing the type of ceremony that they want to have, or that reflects the morals and beliefs of the deceased. A secular funeral ceremony is unique, sensitive and a celebration of the life of your loved one.


A funeral ceremony with a civil or secular celebrant will reflect your beliefs and morals. There will be no hidden agenda on the part of the celebrant, either religious or moral. With a secular celebrant you get the ceremony that you want to have.


One of the many advantages of a using a secular celebrant is that while religion is not required to be a part of the ceremony, it can be. It is your choice. I have readings from many religions in the folder of samples for readings that I supply to families.


A professional secular celebrant will be trained (I trained with the IIOC, who take a lot of pride in the high level of their training courses and the professionalism that is required to pass their accreditation). This training will mean that they know the layout of a funeral, they will cater to your needs with empathy and professionalism and they are trained in public speaking, as well, of course as writing a funeral speech.



Many funeral directors that I spoke to (here in Ireland), told me that they had little or no experience with secular funerals. However, they were very open to the idea and aware that this is soon going to change, as people look for more personalisation in every aspect of their lives, including death. So don’t be afraid to discuss the type of funeral that you want to have with your funeral director. Many will be able to recommend a celebrant, or the crematorium will be able to supply you with the names of celebrants that they have worked with in the past.


As peoples lives become more secularised (the fastest growing ‘religious’ group in Ireland), so too do their rituals.


What happens instead of the usual religious ceremony that we’ve all been to so many times? What makes this special and worthwhile?


The celebrant can be a man or a woman. A Dutch aquaintance told me that in Holland female funeral celebrants are the most popular because they are seen as more empathetic.


The main body of the funeral will be about your loved one, rather than a sermon. Family and friends can give as much input as they want to. Celebrants are trained in writing ceremonies and picking up on clues for input from talking with the family and friends of the deceased.


The readings can be taken from any source, you will be able to use readings (and music) that you may not be permitted to use in a church. A celebrant will provide you with a folder of sample readings that you can choose from or you will be welcome to supply your own choices.


As mentioned above, you can choose to have the ceremony totally secular or to include some religious aspects. A celebrant will have respect for your beliefs and will be discrete.


The main thing that differs from a traditional funeral is that the ceremony will focus on your loved one and it will be as personal as you want it to be, sensitive, discrete, professional and empathetic.


Some people prefer to have an ‘End of Life Celebration’ rather than the more usual solemn funeral.


An end of life celebration is a joyful funeral- examples of things included in one are: a request for no black clothes, request for everyone to bring a simple bunch of flowers, relese of butterflies, gifts of seeds or bulbs to funeral guests, live music, an alternative location that was special to the deseased- ie the beach, their home… one funeral that I attended had a bouncy castle for all of the grandkids, as well as no black clothes, live music from friends and scattering of flower petals in the ocean.

A celebrant will be open to your wishes.


Your celebrant will supply you with an extensive list of suggestions for readings and music. The list of readings will include poetry, literary extacts, readings and prayers from world religions. Mine is constantly being updated. I find that my music file is smaller, as more people know someones favourite piece of music, tune or song than they do their favourite two pieces of prose or poetry.

A secular funeral can be held in a crematorium (for example Shannon Crematorium https://shannoncrematorium.com/, which is located in a peaceful setting just outside Shannon. It is tranquil, beautiful and well run. They cater for those with and without religion). Another option is at a green burial ground such as Woodbrook Natural Burial Ground https://www.greengraveyard.com/. Instead of headstones a native tree is planted as a marker, or wild flower seeds can be scattered. The graveyard is a natural and tranquil setting, they cater for those with and without religion. The graveyard is beautiful and wildlife friendly.

Using a facility like this means that there will not be a headstone in your local grave yard. There are other options for a memorial that you can put up in your locality. Some examples are a bench with a plaque, plant a tree, or a piece of art in memory of the departed. Above is a tree planted in a community garden in memory of someone who worked there. Below is a stained glass mosaic with a plaque, these are memorials for my mother in a public place that she loved. The motif is personal and meaningful to everyone who knew her.  Above is a sculpture with violets planted around it. This is above an alcove that contains the urn with my mothers ashes in it. She wanted her ashes to be in her garden. These personal memorials are lovely places to go to remember the departed.



If you want to get in touch to arrange a secular funeral you can email me at kate@kateoshaughnessycelebrant.ie